“Influence peddling,” “lobbying” and “making representations” are all euphemisms for influencing the political system on behalf of special interests. Alternatively, the right-wing press and commentators in the UK have been quick to draw comparisons to pigs with their snouts in a trough when it comes to Westminster’s finest.
Members of Parliament have seen their standing plummet in recent months, thanks to a coordinated campaign by the British media to expose what they see as outrageous manipulation of office and abuse of the archaic expenses system. In some circles, MPs are likely to rank around the level of real estate agents or traffic wardens in the affections of the British people’s hearts. “Sleaze” is the operative word, but it isn’t the seedy fleshpots of Soho that a significant number of our MPs have been frequenting; it has been white collar in its nature. Using contacts to gain cash and embezzling the public purse to clean moats, but more of that later.
Taken individually, each of the scandals to have beset parliament do not appear overly serious. Bundle them all together against a backdrop of similar swine-like activity in the troughs of the city and people’s faith in the parliamentary system has been shaken to the core. With a crucial election just over a month away, alarm bells must be ringing themselves stupid in Westminster.
A series of scandals was topped off this week with the revelation that three former cabinet ministers had been stitched up royally by the famously acerbic “Dispatches” investigation programme on Channel 4. Stephen Byers, a former trade minister was caught on a hidden camera boasting that he was “a cab for hire” charging businesses £5,000 a day for his “influence.” As a serving MP, this leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Numerous MPs have been caught by the expenses scandal that exposed many of them to have been claiming thousands of pounds against the rules. Members have been claiming for vital services such as moat cleaning for their castles, paying for mortgages that didn’t exist and even pornographic movies. All of this has eroded public confidence in one of the world’s oldest democracies and does not bode well for the future.
With huge numbers of MPs standing down at the next election, there is something of a Westminster exodus in the pipeline. This is a crisis in confidence in the system and like any other industry, without a good reputation it surely cannot attract the brightest and best anymore. With trade union-led strikes piling up on the horizon, the immediate future for Britain is bleak, or are we just a glass-half-empty kind of people?